Australia’s biggest organic winery halves power bill

Tamburlaine Organic Wines’ Hunter Valley operation at Pokolbin streamlined its power use post-OEH energy audit, cutting electricity consumption by more than half, reducing carbon pollution and saving $110,000-plus per annum in energy bills. And they’re not resting on their eco-friendly laurels: more upgrades are underway.

Tamburlaine's Hunter Valley vineyards are some of the 'greenest' in Australia.
Tamburlaine Organic Wines

In 1985, winemaker Mark Davidson and a group of friends bought a small Hunter Valley viticultural operation and proceeded to turn it into Australia’s largest organic winery. A decade later, they acquired more vineyards in the burgeoning Orange region of Central New South Wales.

By 1998, the winery already had a string of ‘green’ credentials and industry awards. The same year, a NSW Government Cleaner Production Grant (based on the principle of ‘reduce, reuse, recycle’) helped Tamburlaine with its waste stream management; in 1999: federal government Farm Innovation Grant enabled it to upgrade the operation’s infrastructure, installing:

  • a 5mm stainless steel screen for the winery greywater drains;
  • a 1mm filtration unit for the greywater system;
  • a 2ML aerobic digestion treatment pond;
  • a media filter and ozone unit to enable dam water re-use in the winery;
  • a 5 m3 vertical solid waste composter; and
  • a vermicompost unit/leachate retention system.
As part of its environmental upgrades, Tamburlaine installed a vertical composter unit (VCU).
Tamburlaine Organic Wines
The 2ML aerobic digestion treatment pond at Tamburlaine.
Tamburlaine Organic Wines

In 2002, the winery adopted its first formalised environmental management system (EMS), which incorporated:

  • a water management plan;
  • a solid waste management plan;
  • an energy efficiency management plan;
  • an environmental marketing plan; and
  • an environmentally sound purchasing plan.

Key performance indicators (KPIs) for production post-EMS included calculating the efficiencies of the wine production operation and developing new KPIs.

Between 2002 and 2007, the winery implemented several eco-friendly measures to improve sustainability, cut power bills and reduce its carbon footprint. Following the implementation of its EMS:

  • productivity, measured in litres of wine per tonne of grapes received, was calculated at 708.23;
  • water resource utilisation, measured in litres of potable water used per litre of wine produced, was 30.49 and measured in megalitres (ML) of irrigation water used per Hunter Valley vineyard hectare, was 2.049;
  • electricity usage, calculated as kilowatt hours per litre of wine produced, was 0.94;
  • gas usage, in megajoules per litre of wine, was 0.293.
  • waste management, ascertained by measuring kilograms of waste generated per litre of wine produced, was 0.0097;
  • winery cleaning inputs, measured in kilograms per litre of wine, were 0.0076;
  • carbon emissions, calculated as tonnes of CO2 produced per litre of wine, were 0.0013 (equivalent to 1.32kg per litre or 0.99kg per 750ml bottle of wine).

The changes further bolstered Tamburlaine’s eco-credentials. In 2003, it received an Environmental Achievement Award; the same year, it became the first certified organic winery and vineyard in the Hunter Valley region. In 2004; the winery was elevated to 5 RED Stars by wine authority James Halliday; two years later, its operation near Orange became the first certified-organic vineyard in that region.

In 2010, Tamburlaine Organic Wines, keen to maximise efficiency further and achieve environmental best practice, arranged a NSW Office of Environment & Heritage (OEH) Energy Saver audit of its Hunter Valley operation, then consisting of 13 hectares of vineyards, a winery and cellar door, warehouses, an office and a function centre.

At that time, the Pokolbin arm of the business employed around 25 staff. Its peak electricity use was from 7am to 6pm for nine months of the year and up to 24 hours a day over the three months around vintage.

The tanks that hold Tamburlaine's wines use less power for temperature control thanks to extra insulation.
Tamburlaine Organic Wines

The OEH energy audit looked at Tamburlaine’s lighting, insulation, refrigeration and off-peak tariffs. When Tamburlaine’s environment manager briefed Davidson on the results and revealed the substantial savings that could be made by implementing some simple changes, Davidson assumed there had been a mistake.

But the auditor’s assessment was accurate: by making targeted, practical alterations to the way the operation used electricity, Tamburlaine was able to:

  • cut its yearly power consumption dramatically: between 2009 and 2013, the Tamburlaine operation’s total power consumption dropped from just under 120,000 kW hours per calendar year to just over 30,000 kW hours – a reduction of nearly 75 percent;
  • save 700 megawatt hours of electricity;
  • lower its electricity bills by more than $110,000 a year; and
  • produce significantly less carbon pollution, shrinking its carbon footprint from 1347 in 2010 to 635 in 2014.

Tamburlaine made the most significant savings in the area of refrigeration which, prior to the audit, accounted for about 75 percent of the Pokolbin site’s electricity use.

“As with all wineries, large refrigeration equipment can  run mostly unmonitored all year round,” Davidson explains. “It surprised me when the analysis showed we could  conserve that amount of electricity. I knew instinctively there were things we should be doing but this showed the priorities for investment.”

The audit led to simple, practical ‘fixes’ such as changing running times and thermostat controls, upgrading heat exchangers, modifying pipes and improving the vineyard’s compressor rack control system.

By implementing these changes, Tamburlaine was able to cut its power needs for refrigeration substantially, simultaneously strengthening its already solid environmental credentials.

In 2011, Tamburlaine delivered its first annual carbon footprint report, joining the Carbon Trade Exchange the following year and purchasing CTX carbon offsets in 2013. In the same year, the winery received Clean Technology Industry funding to implement further environmentally-friendly equipment and systems. Tamburlaine’s sustainable practises and eco-friendly operation also helped net it a Green Globe Awards (GGA) Small Business Sustainability Award in 2012.

The upgrades continue: by January 2013, Tamburlaine had installed a 30kW solar power-generation system consisting of 119 solar photovoltaic (PV) panels.

Tamburlaine Organic Wines' Mark Davidson inspects his Hunter Valley vineyard.
Tamburlaine Organic Wines

Together, Tamburlaine’s vineyards now produce around 1,000 tonnes of grapes a year – more than 100,000 cases annually of premium wine, primarily for domestic consumption but also for export to Korea, Singapore, Malaysia, Sweden, China, Japan, Nepal and Norway. The winery is also developing relationships with France, Holland, Belgium, the Philippines, Thailand and Taiwan.

Davidson says participating in the OEH Program helped Tamburlaine break free of old, wasteful patterns with respect to energy consumption.

“Getting professionals to look at specific areas of energy use enabled us to make extremely well informed decisions about where we should invest money to achieve the best return,” he says. “We got a depth of information through Energy Saver which allowed us to make the right decisions for the right reasons."

Significant capital investment in equipment and upgrades was required but the annual savings achieved made for an impressive ROI.

“The consequence for our business is not just feeling better about pumping 740 tonnes less carbon dioxide into the atmosphere every year, but also what this is worth to our bottom line,” says Davidson. “And it was easy.”

The environmentally friendly, efficiency-boosting upgrades continue at Tamburlaine. Future efficiencies planned or underway include:

  • further winery insulation upgrades;
  • equipment technology upgrades, with tank cooling controls, pulse air technology, tank press upgrades and VSD water pump upgrades (all underway; and
  • carbon farming initiatives: federal government Direct Action opportunities to define on-farm carbon credits and reduce CTX offset purchases.
Sheep graze peacefully alongside Tamburlaine's vines.
Tamburlaine Organic Wines

To Davidson, it’s as much about the business bottom line as it is about environmental responsibility. “We have the chance to save serious money, reduce our carbon footprint and, in our  own small way, increase our contribution to the fight against global warming,” he says. “It’s a no-brainer.”

The OEH’s Energy Saver Program offers businesses throughout NSW subsidised energy audits and free technical support, helping them to measure and understand their operations’ energy use, lower power consumption and costs, and reduce carbon pollution. OEH audits are carried out by independent energy specialists who then provide business cases for making practical operational changes that result in reduced energy use. Each business case is tailored to the operation and includes plans for implementing suggested changes as well as projected payback periods.

 For more information or to arrange a subsidised audit, contact the OEH on 1300 361 967 or energysaver@environment.nsw.gov.au, or visit the OEH website.

For more information about Davidson’s sector-leading operation, visit the Tamburlaine Organic Wines website.

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